Gender Institution

When it comes to judging others, gender comes first or individual comes first, have you noticed it? So what is gender? Gender is a set of ideas and something one does when interacting with other people, but it is also an organizing principle that permeates our social instiutions. Even though we are not always aware of the fact – our choices are constrained. In other words, it is a social construction and pressure that one must act in the gender boundary.

Ideas about gender shape the environments in which we live and influence our lives, despite our beliefs, personalities, and interactions. We do not have the ability to simply reject the gender binary as individuals and refuse to let others police us. Gender and gender iequality are part of the fabric of our lives.

Social Institutions

Institutions are persistent patterns of social interaction aimed at meetings the needs of a society that cannot be easily met by individuals alone. A brief overview of institutions by Khan Academy:

Our institutions are social inventions, but they are so pervasively and persistently part of our lives that they seem like concrete, unmovable, nonnegotiable facts of life. We can’t just be an individual because we are part of a society that is replete with institutions. We call it a “structure” because institutions create a relatively stable scaffolding.

Institutions both enable and constrain our lives, but there is no opting out. We live in, through, and with institutions and, by shaping our opportunities, they shapes our lives.

Gender Salience and Gendered Institutions

Gender salience suggests that a gender-related self-concept has to be activated in order for gender identity to have a significant influence in a particular context (Palan 2001).

The relevance of gender across contexts, activities, and spaces… rises and falls across the different parts of the institutional landscape. In a gendered institution, men and women are channeled into different valued, social spaces or activities and their choices have different and often unequal consequences. Research revealed that men who work in elementary schools are three times more likely than women to rise to higher positions in administration (via the glass escalator) whereas women are more likely to remain in their teaching positions.

The Glass Escalator – the concept that men excel faster in female dominated fields (like nursing or teaching) than women do in same female dominated fields (Goudreau).

Education, is an example of a gendered institution. Education is gendered through both norms and policies. Gendered honorifics for teachers, gender-specific dress codes, and gender-segregated classes make gender an organizing principle for schooling.


Gendered institutions affirm and enforce both gender difference and inequality. Gendered instiutions are interesting from a sociological perspective because they affirm and enforce gender difference and inequality. As an example, we typically find men’s and women’s bathrooms in separate locations, requiring us to pick one. Why? Watch the video below.

Today’s sex-segregated bathrooms serve social, not biological, functions. The example of sex-segregated bathrooms show how institutions can be gendered, as well as how the intersection of gender with other identities can be politicized.

Why we need gender neutral bathrooms (Ted Talk)

Are Gender Neutral Bathrooms Dangerous?


Sports are a huge part of the social fabric and economy of American culture. Colleges and Universities allocate money, space, and time to athletics.

Sports aren’t just about individual accomplishments, sport “serves partly to socialize boys and young men into hierarchical, competitive, and aggressive values” (Messner). While some men excel, others fail, and a hierarchy is constructed. Sports, especially the most masculinized sports, is one way society affirms the value of masculinity. Our culture does not acknowledge most athletic activities where, or when, women excel. Take a look at the research and findings according to Cheryl Cooky:

The Female Athlete: Missing in Action – Cheryl Cooky

Sex segregation in sports also protects a belief in the hierarchal gender binary by ensuring that men and women never compete against one another. This allows the assumption that men out-perform women to go untested. If we integrated sports this would be put to the test repeatedly – which is risky business. If women always lost, women would lose nothing – it is already assumed they are inferior athletes. But if men lost, they would lose much more than the match, they would also lose the presumption of athletic superiority.

Institutions often resist change, but they are not unchangeable.

More resources on institutions

The institutions that Change You (Ted Talk – Piper Kerman)

Social Institutions Create and Perpetuate Gender Norms

Call for Pay Equity in Sport

Are Social Institutions Gendered? Ted Talk – Valorie Vojdik

Good Luck!

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